You may be tempted to leave on the radio, stereo, or television when your dog is home alone. This is not necessarily a bad idea, but you want to make sure that the resulting sounds are going to reduce your pup’s anxiety, rather than make things worse. In the book Through a Dog’s Ear (Sounds True, 2008), authors Joshua Leeds and Susan Wagner talk about using sound to improve the health and behavior of dogs. Here’s their conclusion about using television and music to keep your dog company while you’re away.
In most cases, people hope to help the animal not feel too lonely while they’re gone, or they may wish to provide some form of stimulation during long hours of isolation. These are good intentions, however, regarding TV, we believe that dogs and cats know the difference between a conversation their guardians are having with loved ones and the daytime soaps or game shows. (Do they really care who the heroine is sleeping with today, or if the returning champion survives new challenges?)
For the radio, you have the choice between music or talk radio. If you have a favorite radio station that you play while you are home, keep it tuned there while you are away. If you choose to leave on a music station, we suggest finding a classical format. In tests conducted by Dr. Wagner, we ascertained that simple and slow classical music is even more effective than raucous crash-and-bang symphonies. Consequently, CDs fitting this description may be most effective for calming and anxiety reduction.
The best thing would be to play an intentionally selected CD rather than the uncontrollable play list of your local station, especially if you have a sensitive dog. Radio programming is driven by advertising dollars and the stations are looking to either stimulate or soothe their human listeners depending on the time of day and traffic patterns. Consequently, a wide array of classical music is delivered with specific intentions that might not fit what you are looking to accomplish for your pup.
From a psychoacoustic point of view, one reason to leave a radio or TV on when you leave your dog alone is to create a filter that masks other irritating sounds. Masking is the process where one sound source essentially hides others within a similar frequency range, This can be beneficial, assuming that the sounds you do leave on do not simply add to the cacophony, irritation, or tuneout level of your pooch.
Whatever you do, don’t leave on more than one sound source at the same time. This is a recipe for failure. Like it or not, the brain is hard wired to analyze every sound we hear. Sending too much data for too long will eventually degrade mental function. Too much of anything is not preferred. Sound balance is the goal. We may mean well when we leave a TV or radio blaring all day. However, imagine how you would feel at the end of a day if you were a captive listener with no way to change the channel or turn it off.
One solution is to have a timer on your radio, stereo, or TV. Let it play for an hour and then turn off. Too much repetition causes habituation and the effect may become meaningless.
There is a simple and quick check to determine your animal’s relationship to the sound source. Where does your dog stay in proximity to the TV or radio? Is he close by or does he get as far away from it as possible? Learn to read his clues. Little things add up, positively or negatively. Your goal, as a conscious dog guardian, is to increase the positive effects and decrease non-beneficial influences as much as you can.
Intentional sonic environments may not be easy to create, especially in the city where there is so much random noise. However, through awareness and assessment, you can gradually figure out what to remove and what to add. It is a process that takes time. However, like the transition to a healthy diet, once the payoffs are observed, additional steps are not a burden–rather, they are a means to a desired end. In the case of your canine companion, the goal is increased well-being and decreased stress. So by trial and error, adding sound awareness to diet and exercise, you are building a program that will create a longer and better life.